During a cost of living crisis, financial wellbeing is a significant concern for employers and employees alike. On episode 131 of Talent & Growth, I spoke to Anita Lettink, a veteran of the HR and Payroll industry and author of How to Select Your Next Payroll, about how we can promote financial wellbeing in our employees. We covered topics from salary transparency to financial literacy, so read on to find out how you can improve the financial wellbeing of your team. 

Why do you think financial wellbeing is not talked about enough? 

I think the pandemic normalised talking about mental health, so we started to delve into that. We found that there were four problems that people were having – one of which was financial issues. That is completely understandable, because if you are worried about paying your invoices you are not bringing your best self to work. Instead you’re constantly trying to figure out how to pay the next bill or how to avoid the debt collectors. 

Last year, after the war in Ukraine started, we were also faced with inflation, so you can see why the financial aspects of the employer-employee relationship suddenly became much more important in the first half of last year. What I noticed last year as I tracked a lot of investments in the HR tech startup space was a shift from funding talent and mental health solutions to funding HR and Payroll solutions and compensation and financial education tools. There is some progress being made, but it’s coming after the problems emerged. 

How does supporting the financial health of employees contribute to that overall mental well being job satisfaction, and what can companies do to prioritise this aspect of care? 

Before the pandemic it was unheard of that you would talk about your financial situation with employees.You could know that they are not managing their financial situation very well, but you could not really bring it up because it was considered their private business. I think after the pandemic, we started to realise that, first of all, mental health and financial health are sometimes very closely related. We also realised that not everyone gets a good financial education at home, and when you do not get it at home, you don’t get it anywhere else. 

The first environment where you are faced with this situation is your job. Thankfully the pandemic has normalised the employer-employee relationship in the sense that we now find it easier to talk about private issues. One of those everyday conversations is slowly but surely also taking a financial turn. That means that when people find it really hard to manage their money, that can be a conversation at work. Employers are also making tools available, because they now understand that sometimes that is an issue where people can be taught how to be more aware of their income versus their outflow, but also manage it in such a way that it is beneficial to them. 

A number of tools can tie into your Payroll solution or to tie into your bank account which give you a more accurate picture of your financial situation. All of these things coming together has created the perfect opportunity for employers to start having these conversations with employees, but also employees asking for solutions and help with their finances from employers.

The interesting thing is that these money issues happen at all levels. It is not just that employees with lower salaries suffer from these issues more often than employees with very high salaries. The reason is that when people earn a certain amount of money, they start to adjust their spending patterns, and before you know it, even people that we would consider rich have trouble managing their income.

What ways can companies effectively educate and empower their employees to make informed decisions about their financial health?

Make the right information available. Don’t just send people a payslip, but give them insight on compensation. A lot of companies provide benefits which have a monetary value, such as pension support, which is building wealth in a certain way. People assume that they understand their own financial situation, but there are cases where people switched companies thinking that they would get a higher salary, but their compensation amount did not change or was lower than before because of a change in additional benefits.Giving people access to an overview of their total rewards packages is really helpful, because it shows what you as a company invest in them. That’s when they can make much more informed decisions about their financial planning.

To learn more about financial wellbeing, tune into Episode 131 of the Talent & Growth podcast here. 

Company culture has become a prominent topic in the past couple of years. On Episode 129 of the Talent & Growth podcast I sat down with the Head of People and Culture at SciLeads, Rob Rees, to talk about how they have created a healthy culture in their remote-first business. I was really interested to find out how they keep their culture positive and inclusive  while making everyone feel recognised. Read on to learn Rob’s secrets!

SciLeads have developed a strong culture in a remote environment. What were the keys to success with that?

One thing that stands out for me is that we know who we are. We also know what our collective view on the world is. We believe that work should fit around your life, so you can do your best work when it suits you. It’s really about changing and breaking the social barriers or constraints that we put on ourselves. There is a sense of community in our company, and there is a sense that we are all in this together, regardless of your position. Because the organisation is incredibly flat, we’re open to new suggestions, experimenting and new ways of doing things. 

Our community is built on relationships. For me it’s really important to know the person behind the camera. For example, five of us are running the Belfast marathon. A couple of weeks ago, one of our newly promoted team managers was speaking at a panel and we went along to give him moral support, and then that turned into a social event. With things like that you get to know what the other person is doing and how they operate. 

Self identity is also really important to our culture. We don’t take it personally if someone says it’s not for them because they want to go to the office – that’s totally fine. Somebody asked me the other day if I like working for a remote organisation, but SciLeads does not feel like a remote organisation, it feels very much like we’re all doing our bit on a collective goal. We’re in it together, we know each other, and we trust each other. 

How do you ensure that communication remains effective and efficient in a remote culture?

We don’t use email. All of my email is all external, with accountants, candidates or recruitment agencies. I don’t get a single email from anybody internally, because we communicate in an asynchronous manner. That increases the volume of information that you get, because there’s lots of different Slack channels. When you first come into SciLeads you’re used to having your Gmail organised with labels, now you have to do that with Slack. You get to have an opinion on lots of different things, which is very uplifting, because you’re not just stuck in your lane. The majority of our team use our virtual office too. If you’ve got a question you can jump into a quick room and somebody can share their screen. 

Those are really simple ways that really helped us communicate, but also you’ve got to over communicate. If you’re communicating asynchronously, you’ve got to be really clear. You’ve got to make sure they understand this. Not everything requires a Zoom call. Sometimes you need to have a Zoom call where you are talking in real time to that person, but not everything does. You can decide what can be asynchronous, and what needs to be a call. We’re then very intentional with who attends those calls. That communication style gives you the freedom to be truly flexible in the way that you approach work. 

How can we make sure that people feel recognition in a virtual environment?

A big part of it is understanding that not everybody likes to receive recognition in the same way. Some people love hearing ‘Well done, that was a great job’ at the beginning of a meeting. Some people don’t. Our sales team is ultra competitive, so they have a good old lead table where our head of sales will put up how many contacts that they’ve booked this week and highlight the top spot. Our operations team on the other hand would just prefer a note on slack to say ‘Thank you, that was really helpful’. It’s about understanding what works for everybody, and how to get the best out of everybody. 

People want a level playing field, so we are as transparent as possible. We’ve put a lot of work into making sure that our structure is fair. We tailor that recognition to the individual, and that works really well in a remote organisation because we have those different means of giving it out. 

To learn more about building a strong company culture, tune into the Talent & Growth podcast here

Human resources and talent acquisition are intrinsically linked people functions. Both play an integral role in the health of your company, so it was great to sit down with Jacqueline Cornielje to talk about innovative ways that HR can improve lives. Jacqueline is the Head of People and Culture at Media Distillery, where she is doing some really interesting things, such as trialling unlimited holiday schemes and decoupling salary raises from performance and progression plans. Read on for the insights she shared during Episode 127 of the Talent & Growth podcast!

Talk us through your experience of offering unlimited holiday? 

We’re doing a pilot this year to see if it would work for us. We felt that it fit with our values, because autonomy and courage are two of the things we work towards. We’re trying this courageously and trusting people to be autonomous in their work and with holidays. We have quite a young group of people, and research shows that millennials really value their work life balance. 

We also have a group of international colleagues from all over Europe who want to go home to visit their family, which was a struggle because usually travel days to see your family are not really relaxing, but they still take up vacation days. We also had some people that were taking longer vacations at the beginning of the year, and then in September they had a busy month but they were not able to take a long weekend to recharge because they didn’t have any vacation days left. It was leading to stress and burnout. That is why we started looking into unlimited holiday.

There’s a lot of research on it where some companies have failed while others have implemented it successfully. That’s why we chose to do a pilot to see what would happen. We have only three general rules: 

1) Make sure it doesn’t impact your team or your customers. We ask permission from the team so that it’s not the whole team taking the day off, because then it won’t work. 

2) Take at least 20 days a year. One of the biggest problems we found with the system is that people are actually taking less vacation than than more. We really wanted to make sure people take the minimum of 20 days. 

3) Use it in a reasonable way. With that, we mean, don’t use it to start working part time taking every Friday off, so you end up working 32 hours a week and getting paid for 40. Don’t use it to prolong your pregnancy leave because we have different things in place for that. Do use it when you need it and use it reasonably. 

We’re not halfway through the year and the summer vacation is still approaching, but we haven’t encountered any problems yet. I’m quite confident that the pilot will become a real benefit after this year, because people are getting what they need. 

Can you explain how and why you’ve decoupled raises from performance reviews?

I’ve noticed throughout my whole career that every time I had a yearly performance review, I felt a motivational dip right after. When I became a manager I had the same problem. I also noticed the same with a lot of my colleagues, so that made me research what was happening and why it was happening. I learned about a lot of the cognitive biases that we have, and it makes perfect sense that this system doesn’t work for a lot of people. 

The Dunning Kruger Effect states that when you are less experienced at something, you tend to overestimate your abilities on the subject. But, when you are more skilled, you tend to underestimate your own abilities. This is one of the effects that make people think they are performing better than they might be performing. On the manager’s side, there’s the Halo Effect where when you really appreciate a small part of somebody, you will tend to think they have other positive traits which might not be proven. If somebody has a negative trait, you tend to think more negatively about that person in other areas as well. That’s really what influences managers in the performance review. 

A lot of companies do stack ranking, where you have a certain amount of money that you have to divide over all your colleagues. That makes people start not cooperating but competing with each other. That causes an overjustification effect. There was even a study among toddlers when they had to do some colouring, and some got a reward after. The next time they had to do some colouring, they had lost all the fun in it. When they didn’t get a reward again, they didn’t want to do it anymore. They lost all their intrinsic motivation. So there are a lot of psychological reasons why coupling performance with a raise is not a good idea. 

Then I read the book Drive by Daniel Pink. He claims that rewarding people for tasks is harmful. For example with data entry, if you say that for every 20 addresses you enter, you get a reward, people are going to enter more addresses, because that’s how it works. For more complex tasks, it doesn’t work that way. It might actually have the opposite effect. 

However, it is important that people feel they are rewarded in a good way. That’s why benchmarking is still really important when looking at the salaries we pay and the raises we give. What we do is we make two separate processes. First of all, the yearly raise is a really simple process. We look at company performance, we look at the budget that is available for raises and then everybody gets a fair share. We tend to move towards each other and we don’t get big differences in salary. Two times a year we benchmark our salaries to make sure that we don’t pay too little or that people will leave just because of the salary. 

We really help people to set personal development goals, because it’s not coupled to raises anymore. We hope that the plans will be more ambitious, because people can take more risks if they’re not punished for not reaching their goals. They can really set those goals for themselves. For this we have a normal conversation with your manager, get feedback from your colleagues, and see where you want to grow into and what you can develop. That’s how we set personal plans. 

To learn more about radical HR strategies, tune into the Talent & Growth podcast here

Leadership is a difficult position to be in during challenging economic times. On Episode 122 of the Talent & Growth podcast I spoke to Elisa Hebert, the VP of Operations and Engineering at Fairwinds. Her experience has been centred around periods of change in businesses and navigating those changes with her people, particularly through mergers and acquisition. She joined me on the podcast to talk about how leaders can steer their teams through similar periods of change.  

What do leaders need to consider when communicating with their staff during times of change?

I’m biassed towards transparency. You have to be thoughtful about what you’re putting out and the way you’re talking about it though, because it can overwhelm or worry people if you’re not being specific about what you’re trying to communicate and why. Always give people the context to process the information you’re giving them. Part of your job as a leader is to make sure that people have the right environment to be successful in their role and in the company. People need to feel like they have a place in the organisation, like they understand where they fit and how the things that they’re doing contribute to the larger success. As managers, your job is to give people that context around what’s going on at the higher levels of the organisation, but it’s important to let people know how it will affect them without overwhelming them. 

How can leaders determine how much information is appropriate to share with their staff? 

Mergers and acquisitions are inherently stressful activities. It can be anxiety provoking. You need to start with a baseline plan of what information you want to share, how much you should tell people and a way to share it constructively. You should make sure that you understand where people are coming from, such as if people have been through an acquisition before and if they know what to expect. In any scenario, you want to share the information that helps people be able to do their job well, and you don’t want to gate-keep or block information that they need. Fundamentally, protecting people means helping them understand context, not hiding context from them. 

What are some of the mistakes that leaders make in terms of their communication?

The biggest mistake that I’ve seen is making a big blanket statement. Saying something like  ‘We’re not going to lay anybody off’, or ‘We are definitely going to do XYZ’ will create mistrust because you don’t know that that is true. Saying things like ‘We’re all gonna get along’ is a similar issue, because people can come back and say ‘You told me everything was going to be the same, but you’re changing this thing that I really care about, and now I think you’re full of crap’. It will erode your credibility as a leader if you’ve made definitive statements and then things beyond your control end up changing. Those statements create unnecessary emotional blockers.

What are the best practices for communicating with staff during changes? 

You should try to protect people and help them find a soft landing. You should be open about what’s happening. The first step is reducing the noise around layoffs. If you want to continue to employ people in a place that they think is good to work in with other interesting people, you have to make sure that the business is healthy. Sometimes that does mean costs have to be reduced. People get really frustrated around layoffs that they didn’t know about in advance, but if you announce you’re gonna have layoffs, everybody gets nervous. I want people to be able to make the best decisions for themselves, and I have to protect the business at the same time. Leaders should keep those two things in balance as much as possible. 

To hear more of Elisa’s insights into communicating effectively in leadership, tune into the Talent & Growth Podcast here